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Rice Visits Colombia to Promote Trade Deal

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has led a congressional delegation to Colombia to study a proposed trade deal. In Miami, VOA's Brian Wagner reports the Bush administration has been pressing Congress to pass the deal.

Condoleezza Rice and Democratic lawmakers met trade officials, union leaders and former guerrilla fighters during their two-day trip to the northern city of Medellin.

U.S. officials said they organized the trip to allow legislators to see the reality of Colombia and help them make a decision on the pending bilateral trade deal.

On Friday, Rice and U.S. lawmakers held talks with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Rice said U.S. officials remain supportive of Mr. Uribe's government and said the trade deal will help improve economic and security conditions.

Rice said the trade deal deserves the approval of the U.S. Congress, and officials are working to that end.

For months, the Bush administration has been pressing Congress to approve the deal with one of Washington's key allies in the war on drugs. Some Democratic leaders in Congress oppose the deal because they say it does not pressure Colombia to combat violence against trade unionists.

Union leaders say 700 members have been killed since 2001, and a fraction of those cases have been investigated.

Mr. Uribe says he recognizes Colombia's history of human rights problems, but said conditions are improving. He appealed to U.S. lawmakers to approve the deal as a step toward making further changes.

Mr. Uribe says the trade deal is important to attract more investment, create new jobs with fair wages and strengthen social security in Colombia.

Last year, U.S. lawmakers approved a similar bilateral deal with Peru to reduce tariffs and improve trade. Officials say so far no date has been set for a vote on the Colombia trade package.